As was his evening routine, Jhykron the Shepherd found himself a nice tree, under which to do some relaxing reading, and generally shirk his given responsibility of watching Katrina’s flocks for her. This misplaced trust might have had disastrous consequences, were Jhykron also not saddled with the plodding, hard working (though amusingly scared of sheep) apprentice shepherd Reklaw. Reklaw was a slow-witted, weak-willed orphan in his late teens, who was easily manipulated into doing all the real work while Jhykron borrowed shamelessly from Katrina’s library.
“What readst thou now?” Reklaw asked, panting from the effort of chasing down another would-be stray.
Jhykron looked up. “More history,” he replied. “This is a collection of essays about the Third Age of Darkness on Britannia.”
“My grandma did tell me stories of this when I was a lad. T’was when the Avatar saved the land from the daemon spawn Exodus, no?”
“That’s the common understanding,” Jhykron concurred. “However, at least one author herein claims that the credit given to the Avatar was a later addition to the tale, and that Exodus was really foiled by a Bobbit barbarian and a trio of eunuch Fuzzies.”
“Fuzzies?” Reklaw assumed his normal confused expression.
“A species that existed on Britannia back then,” Jhykron explained. “They might be the ancestors of the Emps of the Great Forest.”
“Oh,” Reklaw still looked confused. “So what is a Bobbit?”
“I won’t then,” said Reklaw. “Sounds like a bunch of rubbish, begging thy pardon, sir.”
“Hmmmm, what?” Jhykron looked up again. He had briefly been distracted watching the water bearer, Constance, walking back and forth from the well at the center of the town (an activity deemed distracting by every male in the village over ten with a pulse). With the occupation force from Buccaneer’s Den stationed on the north end of the island, she and many other young women of the village were not seen outdoors often.
“I was just saying, sir,” Reklaw repeated, “that t’would be unseemly for followers of the path of the Avatar like ourselves to spread such rot.”
Now it was Jhykron’s turn to look confused. “’Followers of the Path of the Avatar?’ Pull the other one, too, while you’re at it.”
“But we art,” Reklaw protested. “Stalwart shepherds, us, quiet practicers of the Virtue of Humility.”
Jhykron barked out a laugh at this.
“Proud of this, are we?” he asked.
“Well yes... uh, I mean no... er...”
“Reklaw, you are a simple man,” said Jhykron. “And I mean that in the most derogatory sense of the word you can imagine. So tell me, just what’s so great about humility, anyway?”
“Well,” Reklaw insisted stubbornly, “it’s one of the eight virtues!”
“And that’s just what the nobility want you to think,” Jhykron explained. “What better way to keep the peasants in line than preach about tromping through dung every day as if it were some sort of ’Virtue’. If they think it’s so great, how come you never see -them- doing it?”
“But the Avatar...”
“Probably never did anything humble in his or her life,” on a roll, Jhykron was not about to surrender the initiative in this argument. “In all those stories your grandma told you, can you name even one instance of humility being shown be the Avatar? Did he or she ever accept anything less than being a great hero, winning the adoration of all the people?”
“Well?” Jhykron pressed.
“Guess not,” Jhykron answered himself after a while, figuring that the witless, open-mouthed expression on Reklaw’s face wasn’t going away any time soon. “Anyway, get moving, the sheep are starting to wander again.”
This new distraction gave Jhykron ample time to finish reading the chapter he was on, before deciding that he had done enough “work” for the night, and motioning his apprentice to corral the sheep back into their pen. When this was finished, he stood up and began the walk back to the tavern.
Near one of the farms on the outskirts of the village, Jhykron stopped, and pulled from his pocket a small card. The edges were frayed, the sheen from the gold foil dulled, and the artist’s signature nearly illegible, but the picture of the shepherd’s crook was still there, mockingly. Cursing, Jhykron tore the card into confetti, and let the night wind blow it away.
“Enough of this, I feel like I’ve wasted ages here!”
“Thou hast only been here a week,” Reklaw supplied helpfully.
“A week is about a year too long to be a shepherd,” Jhykron replied. “It’s time to try a new career path.”
With that, Jhykron sprinted over to the farmer’s tool shed, and returned carrying a rusty plowshare. Swearing at the effort, he braced one end under his foot and attempted to straighten it.
“There,” he said finally. “I shall take up this sword and win my fortune.”
“Don’t look like much of a sword,” Reklaw pointed out. “Never saw a sword so bent.”
“It’s not bent, it’s curved,” Jhykron insisted. “Like a scimatar.”
“If thou sayest so...” Reklaw replied, then noticed the tip of the “sword” at his throat. “A fine weapon, I meant to say.”
“That’s settled, then. Tomorrow night we try to find a way off this island.”
“What about Katrina?”
“She can find herself another sucker,” said Jhykron. “Where the hell does she go in the evening anyway?”
“But... but what about the sheep?”
“Bugger the sheep.”
Reklaw looked terrified. “What, all of them?”